A burn scar from the Caughlin Fire is shown between groups of homes.

After the Caughlin Fire. Photograph Courtesy of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension

I awoke to the smell of thick campfire-like smoke that had filtered into my bedroom. I jumped out of bed, turned on the bedroom light switch and nothing… the electricity was out. I ran to the window to see the glow of flames cresting the hill on the other side of McCarran Blvd., a major four-lane Reno street. Since the wind was blowing and the fire was close and spreading, I made the decision to evacuate. Outside, the sky was orange from the wildfire and the street was congested with fire engines and vehicles of evacuating residents. Fortunately, I was able to negotiate the chaos safely with my laptop in one hand and some clothes in the other. I’m lucky that my residence and I were unscathed from the wildfire. In the early morning hours of November 18, 2011, this was my experience during the Caughlin Fire. This Saturday marks the six-year anniversary of this fire. A total of 1900 acres and 43 structures were destroyed or damaged and 8,000 people were evacuated. Continue reading and consider these lessons learned from the Caughlin Fire.

Be aware that wildfires can occur in the autumn and winter:

The Caughlin Fire occurred during the middle of November. The winds, coupled with dry vegetation and windblown tree branches that struck a powerline were the culprits for this wildfire. Winds blew at 20-30 mph gusting to 60 mph and the area had experienced an “abnormal dryness pattern”. The fire started when windblown tree branches struck a powerline, generated sparks and ignited the dry vegetation above the Caughlin Ranch area. The winds then carried the fire and embers to burn a total of 1900 acres. This situation shows that wildfires can start and spread year round.

 Prepare for evacuation:

This fire occurred during the middle of the night and 8,000 residents were evacuated at a moment’s notice. Emergency responders knocked on doors in attempts to evacuate residents in the dark while the electricity was out. This caught most residents off guard. Imagine trying to evacuate in the middle of the night with no electricity. Panic can cloud anyone’s judgement during a situation like this one. This is why it’s important to prepare for evacuation before a wildfire occurs. Learn how to prepare for evacuation

Sign up with your local emergency notification system:

Many residents opt out of having a landline in lieu of a mobile device. However, this makes it difficult to notify residents when there is an emergency. To ensure that residents are notified of an emergency, they can sign up for an alert system. The following links are cities and counties that offer a reverse 911-type emergency notification system in Nevada:

 Be ember aware:

Wind-blown embers can travel up to a mile ahead of a wildfire. It’s estimated that 90% of the homes destroyed during are due to wind-blown embers. The Caughlin Fire was no exception as embers traveled ahead of the fire causing spot fires. Embers hop-scotched past some homes and destroyed others. During the chaos of evacuation and without power, some homeowners were forced to open their garage manually, and they forgot to close their garage doors when they left. This allowed embers to enter and ignite combustibles in the garage. Taking the proper precautions to ensure that a home is ember prepared can reduce the threat of wildfire ignition to a home.

See where homes can be vulnerable to an ember attack.

Maintain your defensible space:

Providing the proper vegetation management around one’s home reduces the threat of wildfire ignition. During the 60’s and 70’s, it was popular for residential landscapes to utilize ornamental juniper. An ornamental juniper doesn’t require much water or maintenance, however, it is very flammable as it may contain a large amount of dead plant material. Many of the homes around the Caughlin Ranch area were built during that era and utilized this flammable shrub their landscapes. Another concern is the fallen, dried tree leaves and pine needles that occur in the autumn. This dead vegetation is easliy ignited by embers. However, cleaning up this plant material can help reduce the risk of wildfire ignition to a home.

**note, the first paragraph was re-used from the February 2017 blog**

Headshot of Jamie

Jamie Roice-Gomes

Jamie Roice-Gomes is the outreach coordinator with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living with Fire Program.  She earned her Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation and a Master of Arts in Interactive Environmental Journalism. She was a public relations assistant for Conrad Communications, a public information officer intern at the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, and a Biological Science Technician at the USDA-Agriculture Research Service. She also enjoys volleyball, the Great Basin Desert, and spending time with family. Contact Jamie at 775-336-0261 or roicej@unce.unr.edu

Twenty locations of vulnerable areas on, near or around a home that is easily ignitable

Working at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living With Fire Program has altered my perception of the ember threat and proper defensible space. Just the other day, I approached my sister’s house and caught myself secretly congratulating her on her home’s defensible space.

One publication that is partly responsible for my increased awareness is “Be Ember Aware!”. It lists twenty locations around the home that are vulnerable to ignition from embers during wildfire and gives suggestions on how to reduce the threat.

Contrary to the popular belief that homes ignite due to a large wall of flames, experts estimate that 90% of homes ignited during a wildfire are because of embers. Embers are pieces of burning material that can be carried by the wind more than a mile ahead of a fire.  When they land something easily ignitable on or near the house, the home is at risk of burning.

I’ve spoken with a few folks who were surprised to hear about the recommendation to keep woodpiles at least 30 feet from the house or other buildings, or changing out their attic or foundation vents to 1/8-inch wire mesh. To learn more about the ember threat view the publication, “Be Ember Aware!”.

Jamie HeadshotJamie Roice-Gomes is the outreach coordinator with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living with Fire Program.  She earned her Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation and a Master of Arts in Interactive Environmental Journalism. She was a public relations assistant for Conrad Communications, a public information officer intern at the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, and a Biological Science Technician at the USDA-Agriculture Research Service. She also enjoys volleyball, the Great Basin Desert, and spending time with family. Contact Jamie at 775-336-0261 or roicej@unce.unr.edu.

Most homes are destroyed during wildfire by burning embers landing on, in or near the house on something easy to ignite. In this photograph, embers have ignited the house and started several spot fires in the pine needle litter. Photograph courtesy of North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District.

Have you scrutinized your homeowner’s insurance policy to confirm that you are not underinsured if a wildfire destroys your home? OR did you know that a majority of homes destroyed during wildfire are from embers that can travel up to a mile away from a fire? As a relatively new employee with the Living With Fire Program, I am still learning new things! Some misconceptions continue to surprise me. The following is a list of four common misconceptions I hear regarding wildfire. Read on and be prepared to be debunked!

– Myth 1: If a wildfire destroys my home, my insurance will build me a new home.
Let’s say an individual’s home is destroyed by wildfire. Most homeowners expect their insurance will help them recover from the fire by providing enough money to replace anything damaged or destroyed. According to an expert I spoke with at the Nevada Division of Insurance, a majority of homeowners are under insured or don’t fully understand their insurance coverage. Of the many possible examples, let’s use the car as an example. Say a homeowner is evacuated due to a wildfire, but must leave one car behind parked in the garage and both the car and house are destroyed. The car is not covered by homeowners insurance, and is only covered if the owner has comprehensive auto insurance. This is but one of the many situations to review under your homeowner’s insurance policy. Remember, different insurance companies offer different policies. Due to this wide variation, homeowners should review policy details with their agent or at the very least, thoroughly read their annual policy. For an overview of homeowner’s insurance, please review the Nevada Consumer’s Guide for Home Insurance published by the State of Nevada Department of Business and Industry Division of Insurance, http://doi.nv.gov/uploadedFiles/doinvgov/_public-documents/News-Notes/HomeInsuranceGuide2011B.pdf .

– Myth 2: Firefighters will save my home during a wildfire.
The unfortunate reality of wildfire is there’s no guarantee that firefighters will be able to save your home. It’s projected that the wildfire threat in the Western United States will continue to increase. Since 1991, more than half of the new homes built were in wildland areas and are easily-ignitable, according to the research firm Headwaters Economics in Montana. The US Forest Service estimates that 15 million homes in the U.S. are at risk of being destroyed by wildfire. Unfortunately there will never be enough resources to protect every single home during a large wildfire incident. However, a home with defensible space, appropriate home construction and routine maintenance can increase a home’s survivability. An even greater impact is a “Fire Adapted Community,” or a community of people who work together to reduce the wildfire threat and prepare in advance to survive wildfire. This is a community that is adapted to survive wildfire with little or no assistance from firefighters. View the Fire Adapted Communities publication to help reduce the wildfire threat. http://www.unce.unr.edu/publications/files/nr/2011/sp1101.pdf#search=”fire adapted communities”

-Myth 3: During a wildfire, I’ll defend my home using my lawn sprinklers and a garden hose.
I’ve actually heard a neighbor say this one to me. During a wildfire, running yard sprinklers or water from your hose bib outdoors can affect crucial water pressure that’s necessary for firefighters to combat the fire. Conversely, because the firefighters are using the water supply, there might not be enough pressure to even power sprinklers or a hose. Another reason why one shouldn’t rely on their yard’s watering equipment to fight a wildfire is the possibility of no water at all. If the electricity is out, a home’s water source might not work due to electrical pump failure. When evacuating a home during a wildfire, it is recommended that homeowners connect garden hoses to outdoor faucets so firefighters can have access to them if necessary, but don’t leave the water running. For more tips on safe evacuation during a wildfire, see the evacuation information at http://www.livingwithfire.info/during-the-fire

– Myth 4: Direct contact with the wildfire flame front is why most homes are destroyed.
We’ve all seen the news footage of a wildfire where a huge wall of orange flames rush in to threaten a home. Contrary to popular belief, most homes do not ignite from direct contact with flame front. Most homes, an estimated 90%, are destroyed from embers. Depending on fire intensity, wind speed and the size of burning materials, embers can travel more than a mile away from the fire. These embers can become lodged in something easily ignited on, in or near the house, eventually starting a small fire which can grow and destroy the home. Proper attention to these vulnerable, easily-ignited areas of the home helps to decrease the home’s risk to being destroyed by wildfire. Check out the Be Ember Aware publication to identify these vulnerable spots at http://www.unce.unr.edu/publications/files/nr/2009/fs0905.pdf#search=”be ember aware”

Jamie HeadshotJamie Roice-Gomes is the outreach coordinator with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living with Fire Program.  She earned her Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation and a Master of Arts in Interactive Environmental Journalism. She was a public relations assistant for Conrad Communications, a public information officer intern at the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, and a Biological Science Technician at the USDA-Agriculture Research Service. She also enjoys volleyball, the Great Basin Desert, and spending time with her husband and their mini Australian Shepard. Contact Jamie at 775-336-0261                       or roicej@unce.unr.edu.

After experiencing the recent Driscoll Fire, (click here to view last month’s blog) it becomes even more important to continue my efforts to make my home wildfire prepared. I look to the publication, “Be Ember Aware!” for ideas on how to reduce the wildfire threat to my home. This publication contains a list of 22 places around the home that can be vulnerable to ignition by windblown embers produced by a wildfire. During a wildfire, embers can be blown over a mile away from the main flame front and can bombard a home easily igniting these flammable spots. In fact, embers are the major reason why homes are destroyed in wildfires. I won’t review all 22 of the vulnerable areas, but will note some of my home’s problem areas that require attention.

Once I removed the cedar tree in the front yard, (click here for my first month’s blog) it was apparent that our foundation vent had a hole in it and needed to be covered with 1/8-inch wire mesh. If embers were pelting my house, the hole in the vent would have provided an easy entry for embers to blow into the crawlspace and ignite the home.

crawlspace vent broken

The hole in the crawlspace vent.

UGH, my weathered deck. Unfortunately, my husband and I have yet to replace or maintain our deck. All decks should be in good condition to resist ember ignition. It’s also a good idea to remove all combustible debris out from under the deck as those are a fire hazard.  Even the accumulated litter between deck floor boards can be a source of ignition from embers.  A few months ago, my husband and I purchased wooden lattice panels to enclose the deck. However, the publication recommends using “ignition-resistant siding materials”, or 1/8-inch wire mesh to prevent debris and embers from blowing under the deck – I guess we won’t be using those panels.

The condition of my deck. Also note the open space between the deck and the ground.

The condition of my deck. Also note the open space between the deck and the ground.

under deck

A view beneath the deck. The dead vegetation under the deck must be removed.

My home “to-do” list continues to get longer and longer but at least I have an idea of how to keep my home safe from embers. For a full list of vulnerable, flammable areas of your home check out the “Be Ember Aware!” publication (click here for the “Be Ember Aware!” publication) Also, keep an eye out for more of my lessons and experiences with these blogs.

Jamie HeadshotJamie Roice-Gomes is the outreach coordinator with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living with Fire Program.  She earned her Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation and a Master of Arts in Interactive Environmental Journalism. She was a public relations assistant for Conrad Communications, a public information officer intern at the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, and a Biological Science Technician at the USDA-Agriculture Research Service. She also enjoys volleyball, the Great Basin Desert, and spending time with her husband and their mini Australian Shepard. Contact Jamie at 775-336-0261                       or roicej@unce.unr.edu.

As the new Outreach Coordinator with the Living With Fire Program, I thought it was fitting to share my trials and tribulations as an owner of an older home in a fire prone area. In 2014 my husband and I purchased our dream home which is nestled in the hills of old Southwest Reno. As first-time homebuyers of a 46 year old home, we discovered the learning curve was steep regarding proper landscape maintenance. I used to look at my yard and shake my head in disbelief and wonder, “Where do I start?” Wait…who am I kidding, I still do that!

The picture marked “Before” is a Google photo of our front yard before we purchased the home. The number “1” represents the ornamental junipers. The number “2” marks the cedar trees. The picture marked “After” is what our home looks like today.

google photo front yard 2011After front yard photo blog 1

After comparing the “before” and “after” photos, it’s apparent that we removed the junipers and cedars. Junipers are bad news during a wildfire because embers can become lodged within them, smolder, ignite and burn at high intensity later after firefighters leave. Firefighters often refer to junipers as “little green gas cans”. I knew these plants were flammable in a wildfire and I ensured this was one of the first plants to remove. The homeowners before me also planted two cedar trees up against the house. The overgrown trees had grown into the roof eaves and were touching the house. This is also a fire hazard and during my first week on the job, I learned that evergreen shrubs such as junipers and trees such as cedar should be located a minimum of 30 feet from the house. In the “after” photo, you can see that these evergreens were removed.

Also in the “after” photo, one can see that we replaced our landscape rock with shredded wood mulch. Unfortunately, on the FIRST day of my job I learned that a home with mulch within the first five feet of a home is NOT desirable. Embers from a wildfire can ignite the mulch, and produce flames next to the house. I also learned that embers are the main reason why homes catch fire during a wildfire. While mulch is aesthetically pleasing, I urge others to not make the same mistake as me and instead use landscape rock, gravel, hard surfaces or herbaceous plants. (Now I have the lovely task of convincing my husband that the mulch MUST be replaced.)

While I have more work ahead of me, these are some of my lessons and experiences as I brave the world of homeownership. To those interested, I highly recommend looking at the publication, “Choosing the Right Plants”. Stay tuned for more of my trials and tribulations!

Jamie Headshot

 

Jamie Roice-Gomes is the outreach coordinator with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living With Fire Program.  She earned her Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation and a Master of Arts in Interactive Environmental Journalism. She was a public relations assistant for Conrad Communications, a public information officer intern at the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, and a Biological Science Technician at the USDA-Agriculture Research Service. She also enjoys volleyball, the Great Basin Desert, and spending time with her husband and their mini Australian Shepard. Contact Jamie at 775-336-0261775-336-0261 or roicej@unce.unr.edu.

tree

What type of tree is this?

My husband, Marc, and I purchased a home last month in Reno. We are both first time home owners in a brand new development and I must say it has been a fun, yet educational, journey. As a newbie to the Living With Fire team, I find myself hyper-aware of all the potential fire risks.

Marc laughs at me because I tend to take safety manners VERY seriously and I find myself getting worked up when I learn new things. However, he was operating under the assumption that, although the fire risk is real, there really isn’t anything we can do about it.

Boy is he lucky to have me and my team around because there is PLENTY we can do to prepare. I’m not even going to get into my neighborhood as a whole (yet…), but our specific household has a nice wood fence connected to the house. Right up against the fence is a beautiful evergreen tree that appears to be getting a bit dry. I’m not 100% sure what kind of tree it is (I will need to contact a Master Gardener to help me with that) but it seems like a potential risk to me. Marc also laughed when I told him my plans to contact the landscaper about fire-safe plants. Why not when we have this beautiful plant guide available … for FREE!?

I also haven’t gotten around to investigating whether or not the eave vents on our house have screens on them (to be honest, I didn’t even know what an “eave” was…). But, I learned about them at the West Washoe Valley Wildfire Preparedness meeting I attended last month and I am hoping to prepare my defensible space as soon as possible. Maybe all you readers out there can help hold me accountable…

What else do you think I need to look into? Any advice for the “new girl”?

Comment below!

About the Author: Jenny Digesti is the Assistant for the Living With Fire Program. You can follow her on twitter here.

Yesterday I picked up my mail and opened the agenda for our upcoming HOA Board meeting.  There in bold letters was the central item for discussion and decision – “Deepening Drought to Force Water Conservation and Landscape Maintenance Changes.”  I guess I knew this was coming but I felt something was missing.  What about discussing the impact of the drought on the growing threat of wildfire and what we are going to do about that?  I’m no expert, but common sense tells me that the lack of water means a greater amount of dry fuel and in turn, more severe wildfires!  I vividly recall the difference between a campfire burning with wet wood and one with dry wood.  So I took the time to call a local fire behavior expert, Mr. Sandy Munns and get his opinion on the effect of the drought on the danger of wildfire.  Mr. Munns is currently the Fire Training Program Coordinator at Truckee Meadows Community College.  He has years of experience fighting wildland fire and understands the effect of the environment on the way a fire burns.  And he sure had a lot to say!

He explained that drought is all about water.  Interestingly, so is wildland fire.  The amount of water in the dead and living vegetation is called fuel moisture and determines how hot the fire will burn.  When fuel burns, some of the heat produced is used to evaporate the fuel moisture.   The wetter the fuel the more heat is taken up to evaporate that water.  So fuel moisture can act like a brake and the higher it is the more it can just slow or calm things down.  We see this in the size of the flames.  Low fuel moisture means big flames.  In contrast, if fuel moisture is very high, the fire may not even ignite.

Drought has several impacts on fuel moisture.  First, while fine dead fuels like grass and weeds may change moisture content in as little as 1 hour, large fuels like limbs and logs, can take more than a month.  During a drought, these large fuels dry out more quickly and, during a wildfire, produce bigger flames.  Second, living foliage on brush and trees typically has very high fuel moisture and generally will be less flammable.  During a drought, the moisture of live foliage gets so low it burns like dead fuel, also causing bigger flames.Fire in Trees

Mr. Munns went on to explain that bigger flames lead to wicked and unpredictable fire behavior making fires difficult or impossible to control.  Bigger, hotter flames also spread into the tops of brush and trees, usually killing them and leaving little behind.  In other words, drought creates hotter, more severe fires that advance rapidly. Drier, hotter fires also increase the amount of embers that can start fires at a considerable distance from the main flame front.  During a drought, the fuels that embers land in are drier, and more likely to ignite.  This increases the risk of fires starting, particularly in and around structures. University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living With Fire Program has a great publication to help you learn more about embers. Click here to download a copy of Be Ember Aware!

I imagine that the lack of snow and rain helps explain the recent fires outside of what we normally think of as “fire season”.  Some examples are the Caughlin Fire in November, 2011 in Reno, the Washoe Drive Fire in January 2012 near Carson City, and the Round Fire near Bridgeport, CA fire just this week.  Mr. Munns told me that damaging fires have burned every month of the year in the Great Basin, particularly during drought years.  Mr. Munns concluded by emphasizing that preparing homes for fire is always necessary, but it is even more important, year round during a drought.  Since it is an issue of great concern to the firefighting community, it should also be for my community.

Now I have a better understanding that drought causes hotter fires, allows the fire to spread rapidly and into the tops of brush and trees, and allows fires to burn every month of the year, even outside the ‘typical’ fire season.  Drought increases the likelihood of severe fires causing more damage to not only the environment, but also to the homes right here where I live, in the wildland-urban interface.

I can tell you that Mr. Munns got my attention and painted a pretty scary picture.  I read somewhere that to convince people of their vulnerability and stimulate action the threat of wildfire must be on the agenda; every agenda.  I can assure you that when the HOA board meets to talk about the drought in a few days, a new item dealing with the wildfire threat will also be on their agenda.